Rookie upbeat on role as driver of Kodak Dodge

James Johnson
Staff writer

Brendan Gaughan's career-best fourth-place finish on Sunday came at a good time for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series rookie.

Gaughan has addressed rumors in recent weeks that he is on the verge of losing the Kodak-sponsored ride at Penske-Jasper Racing.

He is 30th in the points standings. That's not the place to be when it comes to job security in Cup racing. Gaughan, however, maintains he is not concerned about his status as driver of the No. 77 Dodge.

"Everybody can write what they want,'' Gaughan said during a teleconference Tuesday. "It's what they have to do to justify their jobs, but I'm here until the end of the year and not really worried about it.''

While Gaughan says he looks forward to the team's move into a new shop in December, his bosses appear to be in a wait-and-see mode when it comes to the 2005 season.

"We've not made that decision as of yet,'' Penske-Jasper Racing co-owner Doug Bawel said. "Brendan is an awesome individual.

"He is a public relations dream and an unbelievable talent, but you have to back that all up with performance on the race track.''

Bawel said it was made clear that the team and the 29-year-old Las Vegas native were not satisfied with their performance during a meeting two months ago. Gaughan failed to finish six consecutive races during the season.

Speculation about Gaughan's status was anything but doused after 2003 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Travis Kvapil tested a Penske car at Kansas Speedway.

"We've tested several drivers and haven't seen anyone better,'' Bawel said. "Saying all that, we want this to work. It's in all of our best interests to make it work.

"This past weekend showed what Brendan is capable of.''

Gaughan scored his first top-five finish in 29 Cup starts on Sunday in Alabama at Talladega Superspeedway. He led for four laps and was in front during the final restart very late in the race driving "one of the best superspeedway cars ever built out of the Penske shop.''

"I'm not saying the rumor mill wasn't stirred on by some actions,'' Gaughan said Tuesday.

"I think the outcome of last week's race and the outcome of those situations have spoken for themselves and everybody is ready to move forward and keep digging.''

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